Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Tokyo take 2, maybe not so evil

OK, so maybe the combination of Tokyo and my training group is what's evil... Tokyo itself with only a small segment (2 teachers) of my training group... not so evil... just amazing...

We had an amazing day yesterday touring Shitamashi (old Tokyo) on foot before heading to Ueno for dinner and finally going our seperate ways. We had a heck of a day, even though it was pretty hot and humid... and we got caught in the rain.

My day started when my alarm went off at 5AM and I promptly snoozed it. Fortunately, the sound from the alarm is pretty piercing and usually wakes me up enough that I won't fall back to sleep. Woke up, made breakfast, had a shower and packed a bag. If there's one thing my forray into Tokyo last week taught me it's to never go to Tokyo without some basic personal effects such as deodorant, toothbrush, change of clothes... we were all pretty rank on the way home last Tuesday after spending a day and night in our clothes.... ick. So I hopped on the ol' mama chari around 5:45 and biked my way through the deserted streets of Utsunomiya down to the deserted JR station, made my way down to the deserted platform to wait for my 6:27 train. Well ok, not quite deserted... there was this one guy passed out on a chair that was probably too drunk the night before and missed his train...

So I waited around for a bit, being way too early as I usually prefer to be and took a few nice train shots as they were pulling in and taking off.

The more exposure I've got to the train system in Japan, the more convinced I am that they've got it right. All trains here, from the subways to the Shinkansen run similar to the subway system in Toronto or Montreal. You go to a ticket machine, look at a map, figure out how much money it should cost to get where you're going, put your money in, get your ticket and use it to enter the railway section of the station. From there, you can get on any train, at any time, heading in any direction. Head to your platform, wait for the right train to swing by, hop on and that's that. When you get to your destination, you need to use your ticket again to leave the station, and if you miscalculated your fare, just head to a fare adjustment machine and pop in some more money for a ticket. Very cool, pretty simple. None of this buying a ticket for a specific train leaving at a specific time to a specific place thing like back home. The only time you'd do that is to get a reserved seat in the Green Car. Here's the inside of the Local Train I took yesterday morning... it's not full yet but we are 2 hours from Tokyo... Essentially the local trains here are like long range subways back home, more standing room than sitting room and pretty damn fast. For example, the VIA train from Ottawa to Montreal takes about 2 hours to cover the distance, stopping 3? 4? times? This local train from Utsunomiya has about the same distance to cover and does it in the same amount of time... the difference? It has 22 stops!

Thankfully, I got a seat since I got on far up the line. I took out my book and started to do some reading as more and more people piled onto the train at every station. By Omiya (about halfway there) there was barely any room to move for anyone... the upside of that is that those who have nothing to hold on to are held up by other passengers... lol As I said, I had a comfortable seat, and pretended to read while in fact mostly watching the amazing flow of people on and off the trains at every station. Having arrived at Shinjuku, most of the train emptied out and I joined the 8:20AM rush hour crowd making their way to the skyscrapers. First I spotted our meeting spot (a police station near the West Exit) and then made my way up to street level to check out Shinjuku. I'd only been here in the dark, never in daylight... and never during rush hour. Shinjuku is the world's largest and busiest train station. (busiest measured by volume of people, and size by comparing only the terminal section of Shinjuku. Grand Central station in New York has more trains flowing through it bu nowhere near the same amount of people. Nagoya station, here in Japan is larger than Shinjuku but only because it incorporates two office towers and a shopping center.... the station itself is small. So after checking things out for a bit, I headed over to Yodabashi Camera to wait for it to open at 9:30 and finally get a bigger memory card for my camera. Here's a shot of a skyscraper (I think the Tokyo Metropolitan Government offices?) through some of the shopping district in Shinjuku.

So I bought my 512MB memory card at 9:34, for around 80$ which is a little less than I paid for a 256MB card back home... yay Japan... After that, I headed over to our meeting spot and hooked up with Kim and her co-worker Tu and we headed into the train system again. Wasim, having overslept, would be joining us in Shitamashi. The plan was to follow Kim's great little Tokyo guide book for a walking tour of the oldest neighbourhood of Tokyo. After a few train transfers, we arrived in the desired section and as we got to the station exit, it was pouring rain. Oh well, I've been meaning to buy one of the compact umbrellas anyways... and we headed to a tiny local restaurant where Kim and Tu impressed the lone waiter\cook with their Japanese and we ordered a lovely meal. Funny piece of info here... all of our meals contained choped weiners... I had yaki soba, Tu had curry rice and Kim had pasta... quite amusing. So Wasim joined us at the restaurant and we headed out on our walk.

After checking out a nice (but dirty) little park, we headed over to a shopping district and check out a bunch of little shops.

We then made out way to the home of a local artist, long since deceased and checked it out. It was pretty cool, he'd designed it himself and it included a large gallery of his sculptures as well as an interior garden and a rooftop garden. This is the view from the roof... remember those two tall buildings... you'll see them again later.

There was a nice statue on the roof as well.

I thought this was a funny picture... the banner on the building on the left is announcing a Nova school. NOVA is to English schools as McDonalds is to restaurants, they have branches everywhere... and lots of students... but they suck... lol AEON is more of a steakhouse in comparison... both for students and staff. This branch happens to be located next to a seedy looking hotel, very professional.

After checking out the museum and enjoying the AC for a while, we headed off again and ended up at a little ice cream parlour where I had my first ice cream in Japan. The ball on the left is red bean flavoured, the one on the right is Vanilla. The name of this set was "Avec Ice" another odd use of French in Japan. Avec means "with" and I guess they mean you can share this with someone??? As you can see, no one was sharing at our table... lol

Then we headed over to a nice Shrine nearby.

Kim showed us how to correctly perform the ablution ritual whereby you cleanse yourself before entering the shrine.
Step 1 - pick up the laddle with your left hand and dip into the water.
Step 2 - pour water over your right hand and then take the laddle in your right hand.
Step 3 - pour water over your left hand, and take some from your hand into your mouth.
Step 4 - pour water back over the laddle's handle to clean it and set it back down.
DO NOT: drink from the laddle or spit the water back out where you took it from!
The rest of the shrine thing I was familiar with, and we said our little prayer thing before moving on.

The shrine also had a set of dozens of Tori gates forming a gateway... here be me with said gates... note of caution to anyone visiting this place... duck!

So after walking around old Tokyo for 4 hours or so we hopped back onto the lovely trains and made our way down to UENO.

Ueno is a pretty busy restaurant\shopping\office district. This building here had practically every inch covered in signs, though the light was failing and you don't see them very well.

Here's another one of my trademark sneaky shots from the hip... Stacy is quite impressed with my photografic sneakyness... I just can't stand taking pictures of people with fake faces\poses\and the dreaded Japanese 2 finger peace sign!!! AAAAAARRRRGGG! Natural is much better I think.

After a quick pit stop at KFC for some sustenance (pretty good actually, my first time in Japan) we headed in to Ueno park, which has a large pond in the center where Lotus grows. Recognize the buildings?

While the light was getting low, it was a pretty nice place. There was this lit up pagoda in the middle of the lotuses... very cool.

This is the view of Ueno from one of the upper reaches of the park.

Here are some trains zooming by above street level into Ueno station.

So after just about 12 hours in Tokyo, it was time to head back on down to good old Utsunomiya. Having experience the crush of rush hour (Including a packed train and having to stand for about an hour on the train back home) and the sheer heat of the sun reflecting off the ubiquitous asphalt and concrete, I don't think I could easily adapt to life in Tokyo. Visiting is nice, and I've done that now... don't think I'll go back unless there's something specific going on. I guess I'm very much a countryside kinda guy.

As parting comment, allow me to shamelessly rip off the famous MasterCard commercials from a few years back. I'm a customer so they shouldn't complain... lol
Shopping in Shinjuku: 10,000 Yen
Train to and from Tokyo: 3780 Yen
Meals: 2000 Yen
Subway fare for the day: 2000 Yen
Drinks from Vending machines: 300 Yen
First taste of ice cream in Japan: 260 Yen
Visiting one of the Worlds Great Cities? Priceless

Life is good here, can't wait to head out to Sendai on the morning to see Leah and the Tohoku area! Oh and one more thing... my favourite city is still Montreal.

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Anonymous Wasim said...

Wow Michel, i'm freakin' impressed by how much of yesterday you remembered! I mean, i was there and i can't remember half of what we did(^^;) Thanks for getting it all down in writing! Also, i agree; Montreal IS the greatest city in the world!!

3:54 AM  
Blogger Michel Lafleur said...

Damn right! There ain't no song called "I will return to Toronto"!

One of my many favourite sings is From Robert Charlebois, called "Je reviendrai a Montreal" (I will return to Montreal). It is especially meaningful for me these days since I am begining to feel the twinges of homesickness. Japan is still a lovely place to live, but it is very hard to compete with Algonquin Park at this time year. Fall is fabulous in Canada.

1:37 PM  

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